Opponents of the Tennessee law, including the American Counseling Association, view it as a first-in-the-nation tool that will codify discrimination against the LGBT community. Supporters have defended the law as a nondiscriminatory measure that will protect counselors who provide help for people dealing with issues ranging from marital concerns to drug dependency.
“After considerable thought and discussion with counselors both for and against the bill, I have decided to sign Senate Bill 1556,” the Republican governor said in a statement.
He cited two provisions that addressed his concerns: the law doesn’t apply in cases where an individual is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others, and it requires counselors and therapists to coordinate referrals.
The new Tennessee law follows measures signed in North Carolina and Mississippi this spring that have also drawn sharp criticism. The North Carolina law, passed in March, requires transgender people to use the public bathroom corresponding with the sex on their birth certificates, among other measures. The Mississippi law, passed in April, allows state workers and businesses to deny services to gay people on religious grounds.
Elsewhere Wednesday, a Missouri bill that would have prevented the state from imposing penalties on individuals who decline to provide services to same-sex weddings on religious grounds failed in a House committee, after facing sharp opposition from big businesses in the state.
Missouri’s House Emerging Issues committee tied with a 6-6 vote on the bill Wednesday, according to a state legislative spokesman. That means the bill, which previously cleared the Senate, won’t move forward, the spokesman said.
The Missouri bill, introduced by a Republican senator in the GOP-led legislature, aimed to create a statewide ballot question about creating a constitutional amendment. If voters backed it, the measure would have extended to clergy and religious organizations as well as businesses.
In Tennessee, Gov. Haslam had expressed reservations about a bathroom bill proposed in Tennessee, which recently failed in the legislature there. In North Carolina, Deutsche Bank AG and PayPal Holdings Inc. called off plans to add a combined 650 jobs while protesting that state’s new bathroom law.
But backers of the Tennessee’s counselor law argued it is necessary because the ACA revised its code of ethics in 2014 to add language saying counselors should refrain from referring clients based on the counselors’ own values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Mr. Haslam said the law “doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system.”
Republican State Sen. Jack Johnson, who sponsored the Senate bill, called this ethics code change a “solution looking for a problem,” and said he wanted to protect counselors from losing their license if they refer a client to someone else. He said a faith-based counselor in his district raised the issue, and that he doesn’t consider the legislation discriminatory.
Opponents argued that, even with referrals, the law could prove difficult for people in rural areas seeking professional help. The ACA also argued its ethics code has long said counselors should avoid imposing their values on clients.